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Brooks enjoys move to nickel back in Starkville defense


Brett Hudson



STARKVILLE -- Natrone Brooks didn't need a position change to attract attention from college coaches. 


Brooks' junior season as a cornerback was good enough to draw an offer from Memphis, which he committed to in June. Brooks' decision meant Chris Jones had some selling to do. 


As Starkville High School's new football coach, Jones immediately went about installing a new system with defensive coordinator Kevie Thompson. The film made one thing clear: Brooks was the perfect fit for nickel back, a position asked to do almost everything imaginable in a defense from blitz to cover to run support. 


Jones knew how to make the sell. 


"We got on YouTube, looking up highlights of Tyrann Matheiu at LSU and (Brooks) was all smiles, all for it ever since then," Jones said. "We'll put him at corner if we need to, let him return punts kind of like Tyrann Matheiu." 


The man Jones sometimes calls "Honey B," in reference to Mathieu's "Honey Badger" nickname, hasn't disappointed. His signature play this season might be an interception on the final play that helped seal a double-overtime victory against Oxford, but his performances against Noxbuee County and Columbus drew Jones' attention, too. Starkville will look for more of the same from Brooks when it plays host to Meridian at 7 p.m. Friday. 


"We were debating whether we wanted to be a 4-2 or a 3-3 (defensive front), but either way, Natrone, he was going to be the overhang guy, the nickel guy that can cover," Jones said. "He and Jalen Ware did well, but he's more physical than Jalen Ware, so he's more of the Honey Badger type, I guess. 


"He's a game-changer." 


Since watching highlights with Jones and Thompson, Brooks has modeled his game after Mathieu's. 


"He wasn't that big. He wasn't that tall, but he played fast," Brooks said. "I like making plays, so when I saw the highlights I told Coach, 'That's what I want to do.' It just makes me more of a threat. I think it makes me a better player. It shows I'm an athlete and I can play wherever you put me on the defensive side. It's a lot of fun." 


Brooks added an emphasis of his at the moment is sacking the quarterback like Mathieu used to. Brooks has only one sack, but Jones likely will be willing to live with that if Brooks keeps intercepting passes. 


Physical traits -- speed to chase screens and a, "physical by nature," demeanor are two Jones identified -- made Brooks the obvious candidate to play nickel back, but his brain makes him good at it. He adds to his preparation by sometimes asking Jones for an iPad during their physical education class so he can watch film. 


The film work paid off in Brooks' interception against Columbus. In watching film together before the game, Jones told Brooks to be aggressive in getting underneath slant routes to beat the receiver to the ball. Brooks did it the first time he saw the play, but he was a step late and got a hand on the ball and didn't catch it. He came to the sideline and promised Jones he would catch the next one. Jones joked he had heard Brooks say that before. 


Columbus returned and introduced play-action, but it didn't fool Brooks. He intercepted the next pass, displaying the smarts that have made him successful at the position. 


"He's the adjuster based on the formation," Jones said. "It's going to determine how he lines up, and you have to be smart to do that because if I line up different, my gap assignment might change, my coverage might change." 


The only thing Brooks has yet to do this season is play on offense. Stay tuned: Jones said he can do that, too. 


Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson



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